Fresh herbs: pros and cons
Fresh herbs are perfect for adding fragrance and complexity of flavour to your favourite dishes. Herbs are full of aromatic oils that give each one its own distinctive taste and smell, and when the herb is fresh, these oils are at their most potent. The flavour of fresh herbs is not as strong as dried herbs, but it is more complex and nuanced, so the herb will have a clearly defined flavour.
Because of the quality of their flavour, fresh herbs tend to be more expensive than dried. You can grow your own to save on costs, however, and while this does take some time and attention, most herbs are relatively easy to grow. Fresh herbs also have a far shorter shelf life than dried, and will typically last for around a week once they’ve been picked. Here again, growing your own can help, as you can simply pick what you need when you need it.
Dried herbs: pros and cons
Dried herbs are less expensive than fresh herbs, and less-time consuming than growing your own. They also keep for much longer, and can technically be used for a year or more, although they may start to lose their flavour after three months.
Dried herbs have a stronger flavour than fresh herbs, so you don’t have to use as much in your cooking. The drying process does destroy some of those flavourful, aromatic oils, however, so they don’t have the same complexity of flavour as fresh herbs.
Which to use for cooking
When you’re cooking with herbs, whether to use fresh or dried really depends on what you’re making. If you’re not cooking the dish, or you can add the herbs after cooking, fresh herbs are the way to go. Think salads, pesto, or adding chopped cilantro to your favourite curry at the last minute.
Cooking fresh herbs destroys their aromatic oils in the same way that drying does, so if you’re adding the herbs before or during cooking there’s little point in using fresh. Dried herbs will have much the same effect, and their stronger flavour means you don’t have to use as much.
Some herbs take to being dried better than others. Dried oregano or bay leaf, for example, taste great stirred into soups, stews or curries. Other herbs, like parsley or basil, lose too much of their distinctive flavour when dried, and are typically added fresh after the dish is cooked.
Dried vs. fresh herbs ratio
In a pinch, you can substitute fresh herbs for dry and vice versa, but you will need to alter the amounts you use. Thanks to their lower water content, dried herbs have a stronger flavour, so you don’t need to use as many. A rough guide to substituting fresh for dried herbs is to use three times as many fresh herbs as you would dried, or a tablespoon of fresh herbs for every teaspoon of dried.
How to store fresh herbs
Fresh herbs are best stored in the refrigerator. Keep your herbs fresher for longer by wrapping in a damp paper towel and placing them inside a resealable plastic bag. Alternatively, trim the stems and place them in a jar of water, like you would with cut flowers.
Stored in this way, fresh herbs should last for around a week, although some last longer than others. Basil tends to wilt more quickly than the rest, while rosemary can last for even longer than a week. If you notice any of your herbs turning brown or going slimy, you’ll need to throw them out.
How to store dried herbs
Dried herbs don’t need refrigeration. Just keep them in a cool, dry place, away from light, moisture and pests. They will stay at their best for up to three months, and while they will still be edible for several months afterwards, they’ll start to lose colour and flavour. Once they’re past three months old, check them occasionally for quality. If they have lost their original green colour, or their herbal smell, it could be time to replace them.